VA Boston Healthcare System
Balloons and Stents for Arteries Beyond the Heart
Bill, a 74-year old Veteran from New Hampshire who served in Korea was in good health aside from some high blood pressure, and cigarette smoking. He worked with his primary care doctor to lower his blood pressure and began to quit smoking.
One day after walking some distance, he noticed cramping and aching in his right calf. The discomfort would go away after standing still for 5 minutes. Over time, the pain appeared sooner. At one point, he could only walk 50 feet before stopping.
Concerned and confused about the pain, Bill made an appointment with his Primary Care doctor who referred him to the Vascular Medicine Clinic. During his appointment, the doctors measured the blood pressure in his legs. This startled Bill. He only had blood pressure measured in his arms in the past.
Bill’s pressure in the right leg was lower than the left leg and showed poor blood circulation (peripheral artery disease). He received medication and instruction to walk daily to improve blood flow in his right leg. Bill quit smoking and followed the doctor’s instructions, but his walking didn’t improve.
He then received further testing that revealed blockage in the right artery of his thigh. In the past, a surgical operation would’ve been needed to correct Bill’s artery blockage, but new and less-invasive techniques have been developed for patients, like Bill, who don’t respond well to medical treatment.
In the cardiac cath lab, doctors used balloons and wires to open the artery and a small tube to open the blockage and insert a stent to pop the artery open. Now, Bill walks for over a mile without feeling discomfort.
He visits the Vascular Medicine clinic every six months to make sure the blockage hasn’t returned, and he resists the urge to smoke to control his cholesterol and blood pressure.
Bill’s case is one of many in the Vascular Medicine clinic. By applying methods originally designed to treat heart blockages, cardiologists and other specialists who are trained in vascular disease can successfully treat artery blockages outside the heart and avoid major surgery.